Frequently Asked Questions - Lead


Q:  The paint on the exterior concrete of our office building has been identified as "lead based."  What does that mean?

A:  It means the paint contains greater than 0.06% lead by weight.

Q:  But the paint is damaged - peeling and flaking in numerous areas.  My contractor said it should be sandblasted prior to repainting.

A:  Sandblasting lead paint should always and only be a last resort.  More than almost any other method, sandblasting creates large amounts of airborne dust that can be inhaled and/or injested by workers and building occupants.  When sandblasting of lead paint MUST be performed, it should be performed by trained personnel working under the direction of a licensed abatement contractor.  (A respirator-trained sandblasting sub, working inside a plasticized work area constructed by an abatement contractor, is the most common arrangement.)   The engineering controls required to contain lead dust during sandblasting activities are significant, sometimes expensive. . . and absolutely necessary.  Consider paint stabilization (scraping and light sanding by trained personnel) before approving any sandblasting effort.

Q:  We want to demolish a building.  It has lead-based paint on it that is in pretty good shape.  Do we have to have the paint removed prior to demolishing the structure?

A:  Probably not.  Although damaged (peeling and flaking) paint should be removed by an abatement contractor prior to demolition, the remaining intact paint can usually be disposed of along with the demolished building components.  A "waste profile", taken from a representative sample of the demolition waste is the way to confirm this. 

Q:  We need to perform retrofit activities in our building, including welding new steel to existing beams and columns.  The orignal steel is covered with an orange-red primer we're told is lead based.  Can we still use torches and welders to make our connections?

A:  Not until that primer has first been removed.  First, on the existing column or beam, have your welding sub mark the exact areas he needs abated in order to make his connections.  Next, an abatement contractor will remove the paint in that area with a chemical remover ("Peel-Away" or similar), using proper engineering controls and respiratory protection.  Ellis or another testing agency can administer, inspect and clear the work for subsequent trades.  When the abatement is complete, the welder can make his attachments safely.   See also Cal Title 8 Section 1532.1

Q:  Why is lead dangerous? And what does the term "lead poisoning" mean?

A:  The EPA states: 

"Lead affects practically all systems within the body. Lead at high levels (lead levels at or above 80 micrograms per deciliter of blood) can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower levels of lead can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and blood cells. Blood lead levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter can impair mental and physical development.  EPA's Integrated Risk Information System profile on Lead and Lead Compounds -

"The effects of lead exposure on fetuses and young children can be severe. They include delays in physical and mental development, lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavioral problems. Fetuses, infants, and children are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults since lead is more easily absorbed into growing bodies, and the tissues of small children are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Children may have higher exposures since they are more likely to get lead dust on their hands and then put their fingers or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths.

Lab Tests Online states: "Lead poisoning is a preventable condition that results from environmental exposure to lead. This exposure, indicated by elevated blood lead levels, can result in permanent health damage, especially among children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 250,000 children in the United States between the ages of 1 and 5 years have blood lead levels that are higher than 10 micrograms per deciliter [in California, the level is 4 ug/dl], the concentration at which the CDC recommends public health measures be taken."

Q:  How can I know whether I or my family have been exposed to lead or have lead poisoning?

A:  Ask your healthcare provider to check you and especially your child for "blood lead levels."  (Children are at greater risk for lead poisoning than adults.) The test is quick and inexpensive.  No child should go untested. 

Q:  What are the routes of exposure?

A:  The most common risk is exposure to lead dust after sanding or blasting of lead paint.  Lead dust can adhere to shoes, skin and clothing.  Lead can be injested when it the dust is inhaled.  It can also adhere to food and be injested through the stomach.  Because of their tendency to put objects in their mouths and because of their increased susceptibility to the effects of lead, small children are most at risk. 

Q:  Thanks, but I have more questions.

A:  Call us at the number listed above - we'll do our best to make sure you get a complete and appropriate answer to all your questions.